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Sherlock Holmes and Mindfulness

“Watson, you see, but you do not observe.”

                            Sherlock Holmes

The character of Sherlock Holmes was originated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes and his style of thinking was born of Doyle’s admiration for his surgeon mentor Dr Joseph Bell during his medical training days. The thinking is a combination of intentional skepticism, probabilistic thinking, and mindful observation.

Maria Konnikova, in her book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, describes System Watson and System Holmes as the following: while the Watson brain is characterized by emotions, biases and fallacies, and is subjective, the Sherlock brain is more logical, objective, but cognitively costly.

The following are perhaps the most useful of his concepts of thinking that are very valuable in clinical medicine and healthcare:

Mindful interaction

Focus on oneself and the environment for a mindful and attentive thinking process is the hallmark of Sherlock Holmes’ techniques. This intellectual capability can be learned but does require practice and persistence. Pause and reflect, as well as distancing, are keys to start this process. An attentive mind that is not multitasking, therefore, is key for keen observations.

Overcome biases

Sherlock Holmes works diligently to not fall into the traps of biases and heuristics. One of the most common biases is confirmation bias while one of the most common heuristics is the availability heuristic. One of the underpinnings of this mindset is to have continual skepticism of one’s observations.

Continue learning

Sherlock Holmes believes in stimulating his brain (the so-called “brain attic”) so that he can be knowledgeable in many fields. Konnikova describes this learning of the brain as stocking, exploring, navigating, and maintaining this brain attic so that it becomes a dynamic one. The challenge, of course, is to do this in the era of Google and Wikipedia.

Perhaps one of the most debated topics on Sherlock Holmes’ thinking is just what type of thinking he uses. Most have written that he uses deductive reasoning, while others opine that it is inductive reasoning. Very few, however, will state that the type of reasoning Sherlock Holmes in fact uses quite often is abductive reasoning, or simply a best guess from an observation or a set of observations.

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